Coping in the face of climate change: Research announced to better support our communities

20/04/2018

A new report released by the the Deep South National Science Challenge, Communities and climate change: Vulnerability to rising seas and more frequent flooding, highlights key gaps in our collective understanding about how climate change will impact Aotearoa New Zealand’s diverse communities.

Media coverage on this report can be found through the NZ Herald and the ODT.

In the coming decades, more and more New Zealand communities will be exposed to flooding and coastal erosion made worse by climate change. Some communities will be resilient but others may find the physical, social, financial or emotional consequences difficult to recover from. These climate change impacts are unlike other natural hazards because they will incrementally worsen over time – the Parliamentary Commissioner for the Environment called sea level rise a “slowly unfolding red zone.” This is new territory for New Zealand, and we don’t yet know how communities will respond, nor is it clear what steps will reduce vulnerability and build community resilience to climate change impacts in the long term.

A new report released by the the Deep South National Science Challenge, Communities and climate change: Vulnerability to rising seas and more frequent flooding (see below), highlights key gaps in our collective understanding about how climate change will impact Aotearoa New Zealand’s diverse communities.

“Climate adaptation processes need to be carefully designed and delivered, especially for the more vulnerable,” says Janet Stephenson, lead author on the report and Director of the Centre for Sustainability at the University of Otago. “Decision-making institutions such as councils will need to be proactive in working with exposed communities,” Janet continues. “They will need to anticipate the support that communities will require, and will need to offer equitable solutions. Iwi and community members will need to be involved in climate change adaptation processes, and be in a position to make informed decisions about their future.”

The report outlines our current knowledge and identifies priority areas of research needed to prepare alongside communities for a changing climate. “For example,” says Janet, “law and policy need to be fit-for-purpose for the new challenges of climate change. This includes the role of government agencies, limiting exposure to hazards, and how we will finance adaptation.”

The report emerged out of a Deep South Challenge Dialogue, in which participants ranged from academics and scientists working in health, sustainability, hazard management and climate and environmental science, to representatives of iwi, migrant and local communities, and particular groups such as older New Zealanders.

“The dialogue process creates conditions in which participants learn from one another, come to a common understanding, and innovate together,” says Dr Suzi Kerr, Senior Fellow at Motu Economic and Public Policy Research and the leader of the Deep South Challenge’s Impacts and Implications programme. “The small number of participants means the issues are discussed honestly and in depth. Group discussion and thinking can progress and converge, rather than be subject to a polarised debate that solidifies existing views and positions.”

The report identified that we need to know much more about the extent to which flood mitigation schemes will or won’t help to protect communities under climate change and how information about climate change impacts can be more effectively communicated.

Janet says, “I hope that this report will continue to underpin further research on exposure, vulnerability and resilience for coastal and flood-prone settlements facing a climate-impacted future.”